**Contains mental health theme and mentions murder, blood, hints to violence. No graphic content.**
Monica takes note of the bags under Mica’s eyes as soon as Mica is seated across from her. She observes the way Mica doesn’t look up to her from the floor. The way her slender fingers are pulled into the sleeves of her sweatshirt and her long, black hair tucked behind her ears. She looks smaller than usual, today. More childlike. Like a strong wind might blow her away.
“How has your week been?”
Mica looks up, finally, smiling at her, and Monica can’t help but smile back. Smiles from Mica are few and far between and this one is even more unexpected, considering her body language. “It’s been good. My mom called. I got an invitation to my high school reunion. They sent it to her house.”
“That’s nice. Fifteen-year reunion?”
Mica nods. “I’m thinking about going. It’s a long trip home just for that, but I haven’t been back home since I moved out here and my mom hasn’t been able to come to visit me in a long time. It would be good to see her.”
“That’s a nice idea.”
“It’s been so long since I’ve been back there, though. I mean, I like it better out here. No one calls me Michaela. No one here talks behind my back about…you know…the thing with my friend.”
Monica adjusts her purple, plastic-framed glasses on her nose. She folds her hands together on top of the notepad on her lap. “We haven’t talked about Farrah in a while. Was she a good friend?”
Mica shrugs her shoulders. Her demeanor for a thirty-five-year-old is unnervingly childlike, as though her brain got stuck in time somewhere between puberty and maturity. Small in stature and timid, she could pull off twenty-five, even twenty years old, if you ignore the crows' feet settling in around her eyes and the sun damage on her cheeks from the summers of her youth wasted at the beach. “She was good…she was okay. We were very different.”
“You know how when you’ve known someone all your life it’s just different than meeting someone for the first time when you’re older? If Farrah and I met when we were freshmen, we wouldn’t have been friends.”
“She was more mature than me. Into doing things I wasn’t ready for like messing with boys, drugs. Stuff like that.”
“Did that affect your friendship?”
“It always had. She'd always been too brave and too bold. Not like me.”
“It can be hard being friends with someone who is very bold when you’re not. Did she ever pressure you to do things you weren’t ready for?”
“No, she knew she couldn’t pressure me. I may not have been bold, but I’ve always been stubborn. But she did know that I was gullible,” Mica explains, with a short laugh. “She’d trick me into doing stuff like that night.”
“The night that she-?”
Monica takes a moment, looking carefully at Mica, who seems oblivious to Monica’s examination. She’s too busy playing with the edges of her sweatshirt sleeves, looking at them, dreamily.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened that night?” Monica proposes. “Tell me what you remember.”
Mica sighs and without asking, Monica understands why. Mica has had to rehash that night more times than she can count in the almost 20 years since, but both women know that one of these times, something is going to unearth from Mica’s memory. Some morsel that seemed inconsequential every other time is going to spark something and answer the question that’s been burning in Mica’s mind for nearly two decades…where is Farrah Milner?
“We went on a ski trip with school freshman year. Our town was only about an hour away from the mountain so it was just an after-school trip and we were supposed to be back late that night.”
“Take me back through it. Close your eyes, Mica. Picture yourself on that ski trip with your class.”
“Do you guys want to play MASH?”
By the time Farrah and I got on the bus, there wasn’t much left for seats. The front, right behind the driver, or the middle by the emergency exit and across the aisle from Piper Mavis who was known for picking her nose and eating it. Mucus muncher seemed better than the watchful eye of a bus driver who had begrudgingly picked up overtime.
Farrah and I and our puffy, down coats, our snow pants stuffed in our backpacks, squished into one seat together. I got the window and she got the aisle and it wasn’t until we were on the road that I realized how strategic that had been on her part. It was pretty obvious the moment the bus was in motion; Farrah’s feet were in the aisle as she craned her body back to talk in hushed voices with Darwin Montgomery - junior year football player, two-timing boyfriend of this girl Stella from my Spanish II class. Darwin was sitting behind Piper and her mucus and I was left looking at the back of my best friend while she flirted with a boy who already had a girlfriend. I hated that about Farrah. She loved the attention from guys, regardless of their relationship status, their age, or the quality and condition of their moral compass.
“Did you hear me, Fare?” I asked, tugging at the back of her periwinkle North Face. “Do you guys want to play MASH?”
Farrah shot me a death glare over her shoulder.
“Ask Darwin too. Maybe he’ll want to play?”
She turned her whole body to face me then, leaning forward so no one else could hear. “We’re not in 5th grade, Michaela. We’re not playing MASH with Darwin fricking Montgomery. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
I resigned myself to playing MASH alone. Darwin Montgomery did NOT make my MASH list of possible future husbands. I set up the game for myself. I wrote Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House across the top. Four possible husbands listed on the left, four career possibilities for me on the right, four numbers across the bottom representing the number of kids I’ll have. I draw a spiral in the middle and count the lines to know how many of the items to count before I eliminate options, one by one until my fate is circled in black ink.
When the bus pulled into a parking spot at the ski resort, Farrah finally turned to face forward, complaining about being nauseous from facing the back the whole ride.
I was too busy finishing my last game of MASH to entertain her whining. My 15th if my count was correct. I stuffed the paper into a pocket in my cream-colored coat.
“I’m marrying Freddie Prinze Jr.," I told her, "and we’re gonna live in a shack with our 8 children. I’m gonna be an orthodontist. Imagine Freddie living in a shack, I mean come on.”
Farrah scoffed, “you wish.”
“Maybe when he left Sarah for me, she took him for all he was worth and that’s why we’re in a shack. Serves him right though.”
“Shut up about MASH, Michaela. Stop being so weird.”
She only calls me Michaela when I'm annoying her. It makes her sound like my mother. I grit my teeth.
I hate when she’s condescending like that, and she does it a lot. More and more each year. She treats me like a baby just because I’m not into the same things as her.
“I’ll see you on the ride home,” Darwin whispered as he passed our row, filing out of the bus without even letting us into the aisle as a gentleman would. He’d delivered his farewell with an intense look directly into Farrah’s eyes and a wink.
She looked back at me with her bottom lip tucked between her teeth. “I’m sitting with Darwin on the ride home,” she confessed. She had something in mind for her ride home. It was obvious and it made me sick.
Once off the bus, we pulled on our snow pants and headed for the ski rentals. Then we got in line for one of the chair lifts to bring us up the mountain, and in the time it took for us to move through ¼ of the roped-off waiting area, Farrah made friends with two guys. It never took Farrah very long to make connections and honestly, I don’t know how she did it. She wasn't even that pretty. I don’t know what any of the many boys she reeled in saw in her or if teenage boys can just sense when a girl will put out. Whatever it was, it made me crazy. Crazy, disgusted, and insanely jealous. Boys never paid me much attention. Farrah had told me before that it was my face. “You’re cute, honestly, but you always look pissed and whenever a guy talks to you, you look at them like they’re wasting your time. Guys don’t want to deal with that. They don’t want a project, Mica. They want a party.”
Farrah would know. Farrah was a party wrapped in good time, wrapped in a periwinkle North Face; all topped off with a killer smile. Such a nice smile. Sometimes it was hard not to hate her.
“I don’t want to hang with those guys,” I warned her when we were on the lift, but she just shook her head and laughed at me.
“Don’t be a baby, Mica. Please. They work here. If we get in good with them, we can come skiing for free literally anytime.”
“And we’d get here for free skiing, how? Walk?”
“God, you are no fun.”
“Well, how do you propose we get in good with them?”
She didn’t answer me. She didn’t need to anyway. I knew what she had in mind. I, at least, had a general idea, and there was no way in hell I was doing that with them.
When we got off the lift, I fiddled with my gloves while Farrah told the boys we were just going to ski together, without them.
Somehow, though, we didn’t shake them all night. Wherever we went on the mountain, they were in sight and after a while, I started to wonder what Farrah had actually told them.
One of them was wearing jeans, a black Columbia jacket with white details, black ski gloves, a brown knit cap pulled down over his ears, and snowboarding goggles on his face. The other had a black baseball cap, which I thought was weird for skiing but to each their own, I guess. He had a navy blue coat and snow pants. I never actually saw either of their faces, but I could tell they were young. I don’t know how young, not much older than me I’d guess.
“Almost time to go home,” she told me just before we were to go down the black diamond run for the second time of the night. She said it just as the boys were getting off the lift. I could feel their eyes on us. I wouldn’t have even had to look to know they were there.
We’d been skiing for three hours by then, and my toes had been numb for two of those hours but I didn’t complain to Farrah for fear she’d insist we spend the rest of the time in the ski lodge with those two jackasses that were following her like lost puppy dogs.
“They want to show us something,” she said.
“I don’t know, Fare.”
“Come on. They’re cute, Mica. Don’t be a baby.”
She gave them a nod and the one with the goggles nodded back. Both boys took off down the mountain with Farrah close behind. I threw my head back and looked up at the stars that dotted the sky above me, the puffs of steam from my breath framing my view. I let out a groan and took a deep breath before I pushed myself down the slope, after my friend.
I didn’t think much about where we were going or what the boys wanted to show us. I was too busy trying not to lose them. Farrah had caught up to them right away but I was at least 50 yards behind and I kept losing them with all the dips and turns on the black diamond. Farrah zigzagged down the piste anytime there was a straight portion, but not me. I had my knees bent, shooting straight down the mountain like a speed skier, worried if I lost my friend I might never find her before we had to go home.
The three of them paused when the trail split, stopping at the fork - stay right to keep on the black diamond or veer left to get onto a blue. They waited until they knew I could see them and then, one by one, they took off toward the blue course with me still racing after them.
The lighting was more sparse on the blue diamond, not many skiers on this part of the mountain so late at night. I’d almost caught up to the trio by then, close enough that icy snow kicked up from their random zigzags hit me in the face like ice needles that felt like they were slicing through my skin. My lips were cracked and raw from the cold and wind, fingers and toes numb.
Down a bit more, on the right side was a drop-off with a strip of yellow Caution Tape tied from one tree to another, blocking off the whole trail. A clear warning to skiers to not go down that particular piste, but I watched Farrah and her two new friends duck under the tape anyway before Farrah and Baseball Cap disappeared. Goggle Boy stopped and turned and looked back at me, and when I got close enough that I could reach out and touch the barrier tape, he nodded his head for me to follow and he, too, disappeared.
“This run is closed,” I called.
It was only a 50-foot slope down before a run-out clearing and the three of them were stopped, standing there within ski’s length from each other. It was a small clearing, maybe 30-yards across and 10-yards deep, the rest surrounded by trees. It was a dead-end - maybe a site for a new, soon-to-be trail, but nothing yet.
“It’s okay, Mica, remember? They work here. Come on before anyone sees you!” Farrah called up.
But that was exactly what I was worried about. No one seeing us.
I went down the slope as slow as humanly possible, snowplowing my skis like a first-timer on a bunny slope trying to delay the inevitable. I was about halfway down when I heard other skiers pass by, but I couldn’t see them when I looked up. Which meant they couldn’t see us. Which meant Farrah and I were alone with these strange boys, in the dark, on a roped-off, dead-end non-trail.
A chill shivers through Mica’s body and she laughs at herself, opening her eyes. Monica still watching, over the rim of her plastic, purple-framed glasses.
“I remember this overwhelming feeling of terror and it’s all kind of fragmented after that,” Mica tells Monica.
“Do you want to tell me about the fragments?”
Mica shrugs, “I don’t know what’s really to tell. Something scared me and I panicked. I remember trying to climb back up the slope and the other kids laughing at me.”
“Farrah and the boys?”
“How did you manage to climb uphill with skis on?”
Mica chuckles, softly. “Awkwardly. Sideways. Tried using my poles but I kept tripping over them and the skis. I think I had to pop my skis off carry them up. I had to run up the slope in ski boots, which was no easy feat either.”
“Why did you feel like you had to run?”
“I think the boys were chasing me.”
“Farrah didn’t follow you?”
“No, she was just standing there. Laughing. That was the last time I saw her,” she confesses.
“What do you think happened to her?”
“I don’t know. Everyone has their theories, but I think she left. Her mom had really been riding her. Giving her at home piss tests for drugs if she came home with any grade lower than an A. Looking back, I think maybe she knew those guys, arranged for them to meet her there, ran away with them. Maybe she wanted me to go with her but when I got spooked she just went…without me.”
Monica sits back, emotionally drained by Michaela Dennison, once again. “Mica, what if I told you that those two boys didn’t exist?”
“I’d tell you you’re crazy. Just like the police and those damn ski lodge owners! The boys worked there. They told Farrah.”
“Multiple witnesses saw you and Farrah go off-course that night, Mica, and all of them said the same thing. The two of you were alone.”
“That’s a lie.”
“You really don’t remember, do you? Why you’re here?”
Mica sits up, now. She’s got her eyebrows drawn together and gives Monica a cross look before she looks around the room, animatedly, dramatically waving her arms to draw attention to the obvious. “Um, I have anxiety. That’s why I come to therapy.”
“Farrah was never missing, Mica. Her body was found that night.”
Mica rolls her eyes. “That’s not true.”
Monica clicks her ballpoint pen and scribbles on her legal pad ‘consistently regressing’ and circles it so many times, she cuts through the paper with the header - Fir Grove Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
There is a photo from the night of the ski trip clipped to the top corner of the notepad. Michaela Dennison, 18 years younger, dreamy-eyed and blood-soaked, donning a periwinkle North Face. A mugshot. A charge of murder.